‘What are you doing?!’ Someone grabs my arm and spins me around.
It’s Amy. I garble something. I know I’m not making sense.
‘Jason, what’s wrong?’ She sounds worried. Why? Amy’s wearing blue and white striped pyjama shorts and a navy-blue tee shirt. Her hair’s messier than usual. It looks nice.
I garble something else. I’m trying to say, ‘nothing, I’m fine,’ but I can tell that I’m not saying that.
Amy’s voice gets squeakier. ‘What?! What does that mean?’ Why does she sound upset?
I suddenly feel sweaty and I realise that we are standing outside, on a residential street lined with terraced houses. Cars are parked at odd angles on the curb. The street looks very long; I can’t see the beginning or end of it. I don’t recognise it. I look up. It’s night and we’re being illuminated by a street lamp. Why are we here? She doesn’t live here. Why are we outside?
‘Why we outside Amy?’ I ask. My mouth is dry.
I focus on her face for the first time. I can’t remember seeing her more annoyed.
She breathes deeply, dramatically. ‘You left the house,’ she says slowly, but quietly, as if I’ve been a naughty child. ‘I heard the door. I thought we were being robbed! I reached out for you and you weren’t there. I looked out the window and you were walking away.’ I say sorry. She lowers her voice so that I can barely hear her. ‘We can do this inside. I don’t want to wake up the neighbours, especially on our first night.’
Why does she care about any neighbours? She leads me, delicately, back into the house we moved into today. The ‘Let By’ sign stands proudly outside the house she leads me into. All of the houses look the same to me.
We had been standing in the middle of the road. Oops. Amy shuts the front door and starts groping the wall. She’s trying for the light switch, not remembering where it is. In the dark, my knee hits the edge of a box. The light clicks on, illuminating the bare living room. Amy’s beige sofa, which is deceptively heavy, is the room’s current centrepiece. My TV is pointing at the sofa and there are two plastic cups and two pizza boxes on the floor. We’re travelling to the sofa, Amy still clutching my hand, and we sit down. The sofa, I realise now, isn’t comfy and I feel a pang of regret for my old futon. I wonder if the British Heart Foundation has sold it already. Amy is looking at me.
‘You don’t seem worried,’ she says, suspicious. I was awake now. I was fine.
‘What about?’ I said. ‘I sleepwalk sometimes. It happens.’
She offers a concerned face. ‘It’s bad! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about it,’ she said. It wasn’t bad, it just happened sometimes. Since I was a child, if I was stressed or ill I might wake up to find a frying pan on my bedside table. It wasn’t anything sinister. Molly, an ex, thought it was funny. But I had never lived with a girlfriend before and it hadn’t mattered.
‘It never came up,’ I said. ‘I don’t think I’ve done it since I met you.’
She was staring at her phone. How had she thought to grab her phone when she thought we were being robbed? I wished I had my phone. She tapped away at it.
Bored, I looked at the boxes in what was, now, our living room. Her new boxes were neatly labelled ‘Kitchen’ or ‘Clothes’. My boxes were shabbier – I borrowed them from Trevor at work – and I hadn’t even realised that other people ordered their boxes. I thought that we could have a mystery fun unpacking weekend. Amy hadn’t been enthused by that idea, I’d found out when everything had finally arrived.
It had been a hot day, we’d been tired so we ordered a pizza and I bought a bottle of wine and a stack of plastic cups from the shop across the road. I had no idea why I’d picked red wine, but it had felt romantic. We’d powered up the TV and I can’t remember what we watched. I felt myself getting drunk because I wasn’t used to wine. My muscles hurt. No wonder I’d sleep-walked.
‘I can’t believe you never told me,’ she said. There was a lot I had never told her. We had only been a couple for three months. She looked up from her phone. ‘I was really scared.’
‘I’m really sorry,’ I said, putting an arm around her because I knew it was what I should do. I wasn’t sorry. What was I supposed to be sorry about? I had been unconscious.
‘I don’t think I can get back to sleep now,’ she said. I was thirsty. I said I needed some water. I grabbed a plastic cup from the floor.
‘I’ll come with you,’ she said, suspiciously. I don’t know what she thought I was going to do. I wanted to tell her not to bother, that I wanted a millisecond alone, but I couldn’t be bothered to get into an argument. I shuffled to the kitchen, she switched the living room light off and I stubbed my toe on another box.
Amy had found this house online. She said that she’d fallen in love with the area. ‘Lots of good primary schools,’ she’d said. I thought she’d been joking. Online, the house looked clean; it looked like a fresh start. I had never lived with a girlfriend and Tom, my oldest friend, had just got married and a lot of my workmates had settled down. That’s how we decided to move in together, just like that.
‘Do you think you should see someone about this sleepwalking?’ she said, behind me.
I flicked the kitchen light on. My heart sank. Boxes covered the floor, the kitchen counters and even the hob. I couldn’t see how all of our stuff would fit into one house. We would have two pairs of everything. The idea of our two lives melding into one made me feel itchy. I was suddenly angry. I didn’t want to get rid of my cutlery, my pots and pans. Why should I?
I looked at the kitchen blinds, which had been installed backwards. Their fluorescent green was making my eyes hurt. I took a deep breath. It was probably the alcohol, I told myself. Wine wasn’t my drink. I turned the tap on and filled my plastic cup.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I don’t need to see anyone.’ I felt a pang of nostalgia for my own, old flat.
‘It’s not normal, though,’ she looked at her phone again. I wanted to throw her phone at the wall. ‘I was googling it and most people grow out of it before they’re an adult.’
‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ I drank the water. It was warm.
‘Maybe you should see a specialist.’
‘I don’t need to see a specialist,’ I said, as calmly as I could. I finished my warm water.
‘It wouldn’t hurt,’ she said.
‘It might do,’ I said, gritting my teeth. We had never fought before.
We met four months ago and had made it “official”, or so she told people, three weeks later. We’d spent a couple of nights a week with each other, mostly at hers because she said she couldn’t be bothered to lug her make-up around. But I didn’t often spend the night. I said it was because of work but it had been because I missed my bed. I had wanted to move in with her, I think. I was in my thirties. I should want to move in with a girlfriend. But other relationships had lasted longer than this one. This one, I heard myself think. We had signed a six-month lease. Was it going to be like this for the next six months? Maybe, I thought, I was just somebody who liked living alone.
‘Let’s just go to bed,’ I said into the silence. I wanted some peace. She was still looking at her phone.
‘What if it happens again?’ she asked.
‘Then it happens again.’
She looked up from her phone.
‘I don’t think that’s fair to me. I won’t be able to sleep now.’
‘Well we’ve got the whole weekend just to unpack,’ I said. ‘It’s not as if you have to get up for work tomorrow.’
‘But what if I did?’
‘Why can’t you just try to get back to sleep?’ I asked. My voice sounded like my dad’s when he was angry. Staccato. ‘You might be able to.’
‘I just can’t! I can’t believe that you never told me. It undermines trust to keep secrets like this.’
I looked at her. We had never said ‘I love you.’
‘It says,’ she said, looking at her phone, ‘that you can get referred to a sleep centre if you see your GP. It also says that antidepressants can help.’
‘You want me to take antidepressants?’
‘Well, you need to think about me now,’ she said. ‘I don’t want you sleepwalking every night.’
‘I do it a couple of times a year, tops,’ I said. ‘Since childhood. It’s normal.’
She made a patronising face. ‘It isn’t normal. I don’t do it.’
‘So, everything that you do is normal and everything you don’t do isn’t normal?’ I said, my voice getting louder. I couldn’t take this logic. I had made a mistake.
‘Pretty much,’ she said. ‘That’s the definition of normal.’
Silence. She looked at her phone.
‘I’m going back to bed,’ I said. I missed my flat. I wondered if it had been let.
‘What am I supposed to do?’
‘I don’t know, come to bed too?’
‘I won’t be able to sleep.’ She was so certain.
‘You know it isn’t normal to assume that, right?’ I said. I turned around and heard,
‘You’re so selfish.’
And I didn’t care. I felt ecstatic as I climbed the stairs.
She stayed downstairs. I could hear her huffing through the floorboards. Why did she have to make everything so difficult? I saw now that, if people weren’t doing things her way, they weren’t doing it right. I bet she was on her bloody phone, looking at people exchanging paranoia on message boards. This paranoia is easily monetised. Tomorrow, she will tell me about expensive treatments. Now, I lie in the middle of the bed, stretched out, luxurious.
We signed a contract. Moving in together is a like marriage and I am not ready for it.
God, even my unconscious knows I don’t want to be here. I was walking out of the door! I miss my own flat. It was in the middle of the city, above a curry house in a Grade II listed building, so no double glazing. It was too quiet here, too suburban. This room had double glazing. This room had safety latches on the windows. I feel itchy again.
This house, we had discovered, was covered in brick dust. It wasn’t as clean as it looked in pictures. The landlords didn’t care about us; they just wanted our money. At least a curry house was honest and upfront about what the smell would be. I missed it, deeply.
We had been together for three months and there were six more months to go. Those six months lie in front of me like thorns. I can’t afford to rent another place and I know she will be awful to live with if we split up now. I can’t go downstairs and be conciliatory when I don’t believe myself in the wrong.
I might have to fake it.
by Kate Lunn-Pigula
Kate Lunn-Pigula has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Nottingham. Her work has been published by Litro, Idle Ink, The Honest Ulsterman, Other People’s Flowers, Bunbury Magazine, For Books’ Sake, Doll Hospital and Thresholds, amongst others. You can find her at http://katelunnpigula.wordpress.com and on Instagram @katelunnpigula.
photo by Loc Dang